Cydney Vandercar has been Eugene School District 4J’s interim superintendent for almost two years, since she was appointed to the position in May 2020. She’s the second woman in district history to lead 4J.
The 4J school board had originally given Vandercar the position for one year while it looked for a permanent superintendent. The COVID-19 pandemic led the board to extend her contract for another school year for continuity and stability during an already turbulent period for the district.
Besides the challenges the district was faced with throughout the pandemic, Vandercar led the charge on other ventures such as the construction of a couple new schools and bond projects.
The district kicked off its current superintendent search in December 2021. But at a Feb. 9 work session, Alma Advisory Group, the hiring firm assisting the 4J school board in the selection process for the next superintendent, recommended that the search be delayed until the board is able to work as a more cohesive unit. According to March 9 meeting materials, the board plans to hire a superintendent by the end of April.
Vandercar has lived in Lane County her entire life, growing up just west of Eugene by Fern Ridge Lake and graduating from Elmira High School. She also attended Western Oregon University for one year before moving on to and eventually graduating from the University of Oregon.
Vandercar has a daughter who is a 4J student, and says that while she knows her daughter has been enjoying her school experience within the district, she tries to stay out of her school business as much as she can.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve been working within the 4J School District for more than 30 years. How would you describe that experience?
I started out student teaching in 4J, then I did some substitute teaching, then got hired on. I got hired in the middle of all the big cuts. So, every year, I got a pink slip, if you will, to move to a different high school.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach math in all four high schools, which has helped me know that, across our district, everyone might live in Eugene, but they don’t exactly think the exact same way. It was a great opportunity to learn about neighborhoods and learn about the different populations that we have in Eugene.
I couldn’t pick a school that I liked better because each one has its own characteristics and its own little flavor to it, and I really appreciate that about Eugene.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced over the course of your career in 4J? Especially in terms of working with the school board later in your career, how have you navigated that?
I think when you grow up through the whole district, you have a lot of friends, but sometimes not everyone likes you. I think it’s hard to — I think I have to prove myself every day with perhaps different people who might have seen me in a different life as a teacher or as an administrator in a building.
When you come in from the outside and you’re the superintendent, everyone sees you as the superintendent instead of maybe as a friend who worked next to you in a school. So, I think I have to make sure that I go out with a really good game plan, and I guess be flexible, as well, but know that I probably have work ahead to make sure that people respect decisions that are made in the best interest of the whole district.
Getting into the pandemic, since that’s when you were appointed as the interim superintendent, has there perhaps been an added level of challenges? How would you describe that experience?
What I think the pandemic did at the school district, and probably the businesses in the state and the nation, is that it created two jobs for everyone: the pandemic response, and then your normal position.
For a while, when we were trying to come up with how we were going to teach all kids from a distance — which we called “comprehensive distance learning,” but CDL for short — what we realized is that not all families had internet. We had to figure out how to provide internet to kids who lived in the district [who didn’t have internet access].
It wasn’t always a financial issue. Sometimes they just lived in a spot in Eugene that just didn’t get internet, so they might have the dial-up line, but it wasn’t enough internet to get the classes online. We did a lot of problem solving around that, finding places where kids could meet where we could provide internet for them. In fact, our technology department did such a good job that they won a national [the Smart Cities North America] award for it.
I think that, in the pandemic, we still had our everyday job, but layered on top of it was, “How are you going to respond? Are there enough masks in the warehouse? Can we feed all the kids? How will the bus drivers deliver food?”
It was a lot of planning and a lot of detailed work, and when we made it happen, it was very satisfying. But it was hard work — and it still is hard work because we’re still in the pandemic — to have everything move forward.
Additionally, we had a bond measure, and in the north region we’re building the first high school in over 50 years, and it didn’t miss a beat. So our facilities department, even though we were working on pandemic issues, they still continue to do the pieces that we had to do. We added on to Gilham Elementary, we’re building Edison Elementary, and Camas Ridge Elementary isn’t far behind.
I think the biggest challenge was to keep everything moving forward, but also respond to all of the issues that we had to be flexible with. If we didn’t think things were gonna change the next day, we were dreaming because something always made some sort of hiccup that we had to adjust and fix.
Our response was amazing and our staff did a great job, but that doesn’t discount any kind of work that had to go into that great response.
Shifting gears a bit, I assume you’re familiar with the report “Just Not Ready For A Female” that came out from the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Commision for Women and the Oregon Department of Education. Given the position you’re in now, do you feel that female superintendents are discriminated against in this state?
What I’m watching right now is, I’ve seen female superintendents be dismissed more often than males, and I don’t know that I want to say “discriminated against.” I think it’s the way that I’m measured compared to other people is very different.
For example, I will talk about a meeting that I went to about a month ago. Another superintendent, who was a guy, walked in right before me, and someone told him, “Hey, good morning! How are you?” Then, when I walked in, they said, “Oh, you look really tired.” And I would say that we both probably looked tired, but why was the comment about how I looked?
So, I think it is small, incremental things that build up, and I want to prove I can do [the job], and so I don’t want to say I’m being discriminated against. I will learn it, and I will do it well, but I can see that across our state women superintendents are having a tough time.
Since 4J is going through the process of finding a permanent superintendent, I just wanted to ask you if you planned on applying for the position?
Well, what I know is that I can do it. There is a different board than who hired me to do the interim position, and I will apply, and we’ll have to see how it all turns out.